At the Reference Renaissance 2010 conference in Denver earlier this month, I was encouraged to learn of various statewide and regional collaborations to foster more efficient operations and delivery of better library services. Conversations about these alliances arose throughout the conference and I would continually ask “why stop here, why not extend this across the country?”
I pitched the idea of a National Public Library Corporation, which sparked some spirited discussion. Here’s an outline of the proposal:
- Public libraries across America are struggling.
- Current public library funding models are unsustainable.
- Library staff are bogged down with the basics – recreating the same wheels.
- Operations/maintenance take time away from more value-added services.
- It’s too hard to be a library professional and an IT professional; libraries do not have staff or funding to develop effective websites, content management or collaboration/productivity systems needed to provide high-end services.
The National Public Library Corporation (NPL)
- It’s time to leverage resources where it makes sense while retaining local autonomy & authenticity
- Create a national library organization similar to PBS and NPR; leverage: IT & software development & common content development (literacy, reference, etc). Retain: personal service, programming, local content development.
- Participation would be voluntary.
- For a single annual membership fee, libraries could leverage a range of services that they currently source through multiple suppliers or not at all — and select the ones best suited to the needs of their constituents.
What Libraries Get
- Freedom from techno-drudgery; figuring out what to invest time in, researching options, self-training, creating accounts with multiple services, managing passwords, vendors, agreements …
- A top-notch external online platform; unique domain name, webhosting with templates & all the fixin’s (email, calendar, chat, survey, newsletter, blog, syndication) and tech support
- A top-notch internal productivity & collaboration platform; configurable personal account for each staff member, email, chat, RSS feed reader, doc storage, access to content, events, newsletter, continuing education…
- Top-notch content; a library “race to the top” via collaboration, content sharing & continuous improvement; libraries select what content best meets their local needs
- Brand awareness thru excellence; national syndication of outstanding content & services; extension of the public’s trust with a “Librarian Stamp of Approval” on factual information sources
- Professional mobility; gain vertical mobility by becoming a collection curator, a blogger, technical trainer; horizontal mobility because standardization makes moving between libraries easier; visibility beyond libraries for outstanding work
What The Public Gets
- Better content & services; libraries’ “Cream of the Crop”
- Online services we can trust; secure and non-commercial
- Richer library experiences; library staff can be more engaged with patrons because they have access to better resources and aren’t so bogged down with operations
- Personalization and embodiment that PBS and NPR cannot deliver; having 3 complimentary national services would be a rich information trifecta!
What Financial Contributors Get
- Local funding (taxes, Friends, Foundations) remain the same and local donors would receive the same visibility in their communities.
- The NPL would receive funds from the federal government as well as large corporate and organizational contributions. These funds would be used to provide resources for all libraries and donors would receive visibility by delivering tangible value directly to users.
How to Get Started
- Find a champion.
- Bill Moyers comes to mind for his outstanding career and public service. He’s recently retired and speaks persuasively about the enduring needs of the nation.
- Arianna Huffington also comes to mind for her political conversion, advocacy for average Americans and media savvy.
** ADDITIONAL READING **
Reader response to a National Public Library Corporation